Although he didn’t play the full game after exiting with a concussion early in the second half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-18 win last Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Steelers starting quarterback Kenny Pickett said there was a lot to build off of.
“We moved the ball well the first drive we had. That was a great tone setter for the game, something to really build off of, starting fast. I felt like we took advantage of what they were giving us early, and then we opened it up in the second half, which was awesome. So, something we can definitely continue to improve on, hitting our shots early, being better in the redzone, just continuing to practice and work those things, but there’s a lot of positives to take from this game and move on and most importantly, we got the win. It was great to be in the locker room with that,” Pickett said via an official transcript provided by the team.
Pittsburgh’s opening drive touchdown on Sunday was their first since Week 10 of last year against the Detroit Lions when Mason Rudolph drove the offense 83 yards in 10 plays and hit James Washington for a nine-yard touchdown. Needless to say, that’s a long time to go without putting six points up on their first drive of the game, but Pickett and the rest of the offense did a good job picking up first downs early in the drive and capping off the opening sequence with a six-yard pass to Najee Harris for a touchdown, which was also Pickett’s first touchdown pass in the NFL. He talked more about the opening drive and what allowed them to have success.
“Just more emphasis in practice going through the plays that we’re going to have, having multiple reps of a certain play with timing and guys and knowing what we want. Coach [Matt] Canada did a great job of calling the right plays and the right looks and we executed. That’s just how it has to be moving forward.”
The Steelers clearly scripted their opening sequence, and give credit to Canada for calling a drive that actually worked and the guys on the field for executing. Devin White’s roughing the passer penalty helped the Steelers convert a third down, but the execution on the opening drive was among the best we’ve seen all season. The offense wasn’t as consistently good throughout the rest of the first half, putting up just three more points on a 55-yard field goal by Boswell, and that’s something that has to change.
It’s hard to script more than the opening drive because the defense is going to adapt, so Canada has to get more creative with his playcalling, and there has to be more execution on the plays they do call. The fact that the run game hasn’t been able to get going really limits Pittsburgh, as they’ll often find themselves in 2nd and long and 3rd and intermediate situations if they run the ball early in the drive. You can’t just abandon the run though, and you have to think Najee Harris, who proclaimed himself at 100% before the Tampa Bay game, will pick it up at some point soon. But regardless, the execution that Pittsburgh showed on the opening drive is something that has to show itself throughout the game (and on Sunday it did in the second half), while the playcalling has to improve and adapt throughout the game when they can’t script the plays.
Pittsburgh has a big opportunity on Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins. Picking up win number three and moving to 3-4 doesn’t seem that impressive, but the AFC North is being led by a 3-3 Baltimore Ravens team right now. It’s a jam-packed division, and if Pittsburgh can get three wins going into their bye, they’re leaving themselves an opportunity to fight for a playoff spot with four division games coming in the second half of the season, including two against Baltimore. For them to upset Miami, the offense is going to have to execute throughout the game. We’ll see if that happens.